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'America is not that forgiving'

Tampa's Melissa McGee says getting the boot from American Idol hasn't dampened her ambition for a music career.

Published March 16, 2006

[AP photo:]
Melissa McGhee of Tampa, left, with fellow American Idol contestant Lisa Tucker last week.

Sean Daly's Pop Music blog

Forget about the Simon Cowell Curse. In the end, Tampa native Melissa McGhee, who was eliminated from American Idol Wednesday, figures she was done in by the Stevie Wonder Spell.

After fatally forgetting the lyrics to Wonder ballad Lately on Tuesday's show, a performance gaffe the singer says led to her receiving the lowest amount of viewer votes, the 21-year-old McGhee was the first Top 12 finalist to be booted off Fox's reality smash.

"I think [the mistake] weighed a lot on the actual decision," said McGhee during a Thursday conference call from Los Angeles. "You know, America is not that forgiving ... Forgetting lyrics on a show where millions of people are watching you is kind of a big boo-boo."

McGhee was in good spirits during the call, refusing to blame her "lucky" stuffed animal named Moose, which is actually a horse, for the lyric mishap. "It was definitely nerves," she said. "I started thinking about my lyrics way, way, way too much when I got onstage and it threw me off." (Although she did say: "I'm used to Florida's humid climate, and out here it's so dry.")

Now she's coming home, confident that a music career is the right path. "I'm going to go home and relax and take some time to absorb everything," said McGhee, who declined to predict an eventual Idol winner. "Then hopefully I can start writing some music and get myself into a studio and pop out an album. I'm going to stick with the music 'cause that's what I want to do."

McGhee will not be part of the American Idol concert tour that usually follows each season, as the tour includes only the Top 10 finalists. As far as other Idol obligations: "I haven't had the lowdown yet."

The cruel twist is that McGhee was going to do another Wonder song, Ribbon in the Sky. "But I kind of doubted myself on the song," she said. "Then I picked Superstition, but that was a big mess. So then I went back to Lately," which she only had two days to learn.

Actually, McGhee forgot the Lately lyrics twice: The first time, in front of Wonder himself during rehearsal. The chorus is: "Well, I'm a man of many wishes, hope my premonition misses." McGhee's version, however, went a little something like this: "Well, I'm a man of many wishes, hope my recognition misses."

Even after the mistake, though, Idol judge Simon Cowell, typically a curmudgeon, praised McGhee for her best performance yet. "You can't ever try to read Simon's mind 'cause you have no clue what he's going to say," she said. "I thought he was going to butcher me."

McGhee speculated that her lack of screen time in the show's early weeks - she was the last of the top 24 to get face time on the show - might have affected her relationship with viewers. "To a certain extent, I do agree with that," she said. "When you're put into a position when you haven't had that much face time, you have to bring it every single week. You don't have that little extra cushion to have a bad night."

At the show's close Wednesday, after she learned her fate, McGhee, who attended Tampa's Sickles High School and Land O'Lakes High School, was given one last opportunity to sing Lately. But after just a few seconds, Fox cut to commercial.

So, Melissa, America is dying to know: Did you sing the right words?

"Last night was the best performance I had on the show," she said. "I am not kidding. Everyone's telling me, "They cut away from you so quickly.' I remembered all my words, I hit every single one of my notes, didn't crack."

"I was relaxed and had fun with the song, which is what I should have done in the first place," she later added.

All in all, our local hero is feeling relief today. "It was nice to leave the show without hearing any negative comments," adds McGhee, who said she was hugged and consoled by the other contestants as soon as the show was over. "I've been kind of battered the past few weeks."

Tuesday, the top 11 finalists will take part in a dubious-sounding "Music of the '50s" themed show. On the following night's elimination show, Barry Manilow will perform, no doubt something from his top-selling yet-drecky new disc, The Greatest Songs of the Fifties.

Maybe McGhee should consider herself lucky.

Sean Daly can be reached at or 727 893-8467. His blog is at

[Last modified March 16, 2006, 15:00:05]

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